Bus driver’s invention to enhance safety
Invented by Lake Shore Central School District bus driver Victoria DeCarlo, a 19-year-veteran, the Steffi is the latest piece of equipment to ensure the safety of the children they are trusted to protect.
“Every day school bus drivers have an issue with kids struggling to see their hand signals when they cross the road,” DiCarlo said. “In New York State, it’s mandatory for drivers to use their forefinger and thumb to cross our students. Drivers have to drag their hand across the windshield, indicating to the kids that it’s safe to cross. What happens is that most of the time they cannot see us and end up standing on the side of the road for longer than need be, which is very dangerous. We have also been running into the issue of kids crossing themselves because they cannot see the drivers’ hand signals. Their lives are literally in our hands.”
DiCarlo believes in the idea of the Steffi so much that she made the prototype during her time off of work. She then named the new device after what she refers to as one of the most dangerous stops along her bus route.
“There is a road called Steffi Drive, off of Herr Road, which was one stop that was quite the issue for me in the mornings. I went into the office and told my boss that I just had a bad feeling about Steffi Drive, and he said that maybe there was something I could do with the reflective tape from my safety vest. He suggested that maybe I could sew it around a glove or something to make the hand signals easier to see. Well, on my downtime, I used a Cheez-It box as a stencil and made pretty much a prototype Steffi.”
After the invention of the Steffi, DiCarlo wanted to keep it a secret so that she could properly test it, tests that went exceedingly well according to her.
“I used it for three days as sort of test run before I told any other drivers. The first time I used it, it was instantly successful. When my hand went up that first time, the kids followed it and said it was much easier to see than just the bare hand. I asked them the same question for three days and told them to stay patient because we were the first bus in the nation to use this. I just wanted to make sure it could be seen on different days and in different light in the morning. Every day they said it was awesome, so I knew I had something.”
“The next step was bringing it to my co-workers. When I first showed it to them, the mouths dropped, and everyone wanted one. So, I asked for more retired safety vests and set out to make more Steffi’s. Even though co-workers offered some money for it, I refused and gave them out for free. I told them to just use it to keep the kids safe, that’s it.”
Getting the Steffi was logical, so DiCarlo invested heavily into seeing her idea come to fruition.
“After my co-workers suggested I patent this, I took a day off and went in and got it patented. I had them manufactured and ordered about 5,000 for my first order. I spent over $22,000 on this thing, that’s how strongly I believe in it. I know there’s something here, I feel it. Everything has been positive so far in this process. Nothing negative, nothing negative at all. I’ve heard through the grapevine that this is the buzz right now in Albany, and as a matter of fact, I’ll be heading to Albany in a couple of weeks to introduce it. I believe in the Steffi and I’m not giving up until its nationwide and in Canada too. Also, right now First Student is looking at it, and it’s in front of their Safety Committee right now. But first I have to do it here, in New York, and if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.”
And the Steffi has already paid dividends, at least for one local child.
“It’s already saved a life. There was a boy and his sister, and everyday he would cross himself, sometimes without even looking at me. I had enough of it and showed him the Steffi and said, ‘if you don’t see this, you don’t cross.’ After about a week and a half or so of crossing perfectly with the Steffi, one day I saw an oncoming vehicle coming to a stop. But I followed my gut and my gut told me something was wrong, so I shook my head no and didn’t cross the child. That car accelerated and went over on the shoulder of the road, which the child did not see. The car ended up almost hitting him, and actually hit the lacrosse stick he was holding. The car ended blowing two stops signs after it blew by my bus. I just started shaking and the child told me it was because of the Steffi he didn’t cross.”
To learn more about the product, visit www.steffiproducts.com.